Some observers have argued that the players got clobbered in their recently-concluded negotiations with MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s owners. That argument has it that Garber et al snookered the players with the contention that complete free agency would invite a bidding war between teams that would bankrupt the league…an argument the Marvin Miller and Major League Baseball’s players destroyed decades ago in the context of their more prosperous game.
But while it’s true that with the re-entry draft stipulated in the new agreement the players got only the first step toward mobility within MLS, that achievement is not without value. Moreover, players can now earn guaranteed contracts, the salary cap has been increased, and the minimum salary has become slightly more reasonable.
Compared to their counterparts in England, Spain, Italy and Germany, most MLS players are still poorly paid, and their mobility is still restricted.
But another comparison is in order. The 2010 MLS season could have been delayed by a strike. It didn’t happen. Maybe that was because the leadership of the players’ association knew all along that they didn’t have the resources to sustain an effective job action, but maybe it was also because the players recognized that if the soccer season didn’t begin as scheduled, nobody would win. In a World Cup year when considerable enthusiasm has also been generated by new venues and a new MLS team, the players’ union apparently recognized how important it is to present on time and without distractions the product they have to sell.
The owners of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams in this country, like management representatives in other businesses, have frequently engaged in posturing and misrepresentation rather than genuine bargaining. The players’ unions and associations have won significant victories, eliminating baseball’s reserve clause and, in some cases, making progress toward more reasonable disability and retirement benefits, but they have sometimes struck fans as greedy and inflexible.
At this point, as the MLS season begins, perhaps we should recognize that although the league is still running well behind the major sports in this country and behind soccer in much of the rest of the world, unlike their counterparts in other sports, management and labor were able to avoid what would have been an embarrassing failure and produce an agreement that not only marks the progress MLS has made, but also assumes better days will come and establishes some of the goals both sides can pursue as the league gets closer to those days.